Kyle Marshall Choreography in "Colored," with from left Marshall, Myssi Robinson and Oluwadamilare Ayorinde. (Photo by David Gonsier)
One can’t hide the color of one’s skin. And for people of color that means carrying the burden of society’s preconceived notions.
Choreographer Kyle Marshall reflects on that and more in “Colored,” a work that delves into stereotypes. Performed on Saturday night at UAlbany Performing Arts Center, Kyle Marshall Choreorgraphy portrays the load of racism as one that people of color manage through unity. But the toxicity is epidemic. No person of color survives unscathed.
The piece, with Marshall, Oluwadamilare Ayorinde and Myssi Robinson, begins like a prayer. The trio stand in a circle, holding hands, heads bowed. As they break away, a ticking, like a clock, has them waving their hands, a gesture showing their cool as they go about their individual lives.
The dancers draw us in further as Robinson talks about caring and styling her hair. Her narrative surveys products, people’s responses and how her white mother didn’t know what to do with her mane. As she speaks, she moves toward the audience, settling at the feet of those in the first row where she sculpts her locks into nobs, creating an intimate moment for those close to her, but a frustrating one for those who can't see her.
As the dance progresses, the movement suggests seamless support, mutual trust and a joy within that. But the movement also shows that maintaining the support can be complicated. With the music by M. Clegg becoming mangled, like listening to a stretched out cassette tape, the dancers begin to stumble and twist. Their joined hands are now a liability.
When their hands form the shape of a gun, Ayorinde goes down. As Robinson mourns, alone, the lights go down.
“Colored” begs for more conversation on how prejudice can distort those it targets. But what I found most interesting about the work is that it tells a story in post-modern dance language. Marshall is a Trisha Brown Dance Company member and one can see the influence her clinical style has on his work. Brown sought to free movement from meaning and narrative. Marshall is embracing it.
While “Colored” was not the most damning work out there on the ills of racism, it shows that Marshall is moving the art of dance in an untried direction, adding depths and dimension to the style. And for that, he’s worth keeping an eye on.
The evening at UAlbany also featured “Horizon,” a duet for Marshall and Miriam Gabriel. In a curtain introduction, Marshall said the dance was meant to explore the relationship between a black man and a white woman.
I found the piece too obtuse to fully enjoy. The red and blue costumes by Gabby Grywalski indicated that the two are opposites, but the movement - the man with swinging hips and the woman with stomping feet – didn’t lead my mind in any one direction. I was searching for meaning when I should have let the movement wash over me.
Once again, those preconceived notions can destroy more than enlighten.